In March 2020, the world crumbled in the grip of Covid-19. As shops and cafés shut and workplaces closed their doors, millions of people across the world found themselves jobless—their steady income gone and with it, the ability to put a roof over their heads.
However, in the wake of this destructive economic tsunami, one industry was booming. According to Media Play News, video streaming consumption in the United States doubled between March and August of 2020, with Forbes reporting Netflix added 25.86 million new users in the first six months of the year.
But in the midst of this online viewing boom, a dark industry has quickly risen to disturbing heights. As more people lost jobs, women—who, according to the National Women’s Health Network, the pandemic affected disproportionately—began turning to the online sex industry as a way to maintain economic stability. The Economist reported that due to the closing of traditional sex-work outlets and with many people being stuck at home in isolation, the demand for online pornography has soared.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where sex (and the degradation that goes with it) sells, and the internet is more than happy to oblige. In particular, the social media site OnlyFans, launched in 2016, has provided an easy and “safe” way for industry amateurs to market themselves. Similar to popular social media network Instagram, OnlyFans allows users to access their favourite content creators’ pages, including photographs, videos, direct messages and video calls—albeit with an attached fee. While all types of creative content is shared, OnlyFans is perhaps best known for its often amateur (and sometimes underage) internet pornography.
As the pandemic struck and millions filed for unemployment, according to Elle, OnlyFans reported a 75 per cent increase in signups with 150,000 new accounts created daily. As internet use surged while many were trapped inside, OnlyFans reaped the benefits. Prominent blogger Thomas from xsrus.com writes, “OnlyFans has benefited massively from the coronavirus crisis. Search activity has doubled since the lockdown . . . their traffic has surged.”
OnlyFans, along with other forms of internet porn and webcam content, lure new contributors with the promise of a quick, sexy and seemingly safe way of making money fast. Women on social media revel in huge earnings from their OnlyFans accounts, and endorsements by celebrities and influencers— including Caroline Calloway and Beyoncé—make a successful account seem like the ultimate hallmark of beauty and success.
However, this “harmless” money-making scheme hides some devastating consequences. The emotional consequences of casualising sexual activity, whether real or virtual, producer or consumer, run deep and are long lasting, and the protection of a computer screen only extends so far. While OnlyFans claims to be secure against hackers, nothing prevents individual subscribers from compiling and sharing the explicit material they have paid to access. Many women report being harassed by fans for increasingly disturbing sexual acts and risk losing clientele if they do not oblige.
In an article for The Spectator, Julie Bindel, a campaigner against sexual abuse, writes: “Subscribers [become] obsessed with and [go] on to stalk the women they follow on [OnlyFans]. Last month it was reported that a 21-year-old woman in Australia who posted explicit content on OnlyFans was followed and harassed by a man who went on to leak her personal information online. I heard from another woman about being sexually harassed by a subscriber after she rejected his pleas to meet up in real life. ‘He ended up tracking down my real name and mobile number,’ she told me, ‘and put up a fake advert . . . on a porn site.’ The young woman was soon deluged with dozens of calls and messages from men before she was forced to change her number.”
It was never meant to be this way. The human body was created by God—our sexuality is not something to be ashamed of, nor is it dirty or somehow unholy in its proper context. Michelangelo, the Italian Renaissance painter and sculptor, understood this. His famous sculpture of David and the glorious paintings that deck the Sistine Chapel all portray the nude human body. But these artworks are not designed to provide sexual satisfaction, and nobody would consider admiring one as equivalent to viewing porn—they point to the intricacy and marvel of God’s creation.
Furthermore, according to the Genesis account of human intimacy, sex was part of God’s creation, which He pronounced in Genesis 2 as being “very good”. God created sex as a way for a man and a woman to fully, intimately know each other—to form a bond meant to last a lifetime. It’s no mistake that the Bible refers to Adam “knowing” Eve, as sex involves becoming intimately known in a place of absolute safety and trust.
However, the key to accessing this powerful experience lies with the phrase “in its proper context”. As Andy Stanley writes in The New Rules for Love, Sex and Dating, “Sex is a bit like glue. You shouldn’t apply it until you’re absolutely sure you’re ready to stick two things together permanently.” The more sexual partners a person has, the less effective the bond becomes in the model of completeness God designed for marriage relationships. Thus, it should come as no surprise that research has shown a direct correlation between the number of sexual partners and rate of divorce.
Furthermore, Verily Mag reports roughly 60 per cent of 350 surveyed divorce attorneys reported that internet porn plays a significant role in divorces. Both the pornography consumption, production and commercial sex (virtual or otherwise) pries away the soul intimacy of sexual behavior, leaving behind only hollow, fleeting pleasure and creating a culture where both women and men are used as nothing more than a means to an end. Excessive porn use or consumption can lead to porn addiction – which can in turn lead to sexual dysfunction and other side effects, which carry over from the internet to real-life partners and create unrealistic expectations of what sex is and is not.
Additionally, viewing pornography undercuts faithfulness in a relationship, causing many negative effects on one’s mental health and wellbeing such as feelings of insecurity, jealousy and betrayal. A woman will wonder why she isn’t enough for her loved one, and struggle when he pushes her to participate in degrading and sometimes violent acts portrayed by porn or “cam girls”. A man’s self-esteem may plummet and he will doubt himself and his manhood, comparing himself and his sexual performance to that of a pumped-up “sex-god” on a screen. An OnlyFans star will become numb to the emotional glue of sex as she sells herself in desperation to put a roof over her head. All of these scenarios reduce sex to an act—a performance—which has the negative consequence of robbing individuals of the powerful and beautiful emotional ties that sexual relationships were intended to create.
Sexual immorality has been around as long as time itself. OnlyFans is not the first and definitely won’t be the last avenue through which selling sex has been made to look alluring and profitable. The supply remains only as long as the demand remains, and, in some cases, women seemingly feel they have no other choice. However, it is our responsibility to do what we can to make sure that these women don’t get taken advantage of and become the subject of abuse. It’s too easy to condemn sex workers while doing nothing to help them provide for themselves in other ways, or to use them to satiate our lust while alone in the quiet of our rooms late at night. The rise of OnlyFans is clearly a reflection of the moral compass of our society. However, our individual actions are a part of society, and if a change is to happen, it needs to start with us.
Caitlin Jankiewicz is a secondary teaching student from Avondale University College, NSW. She is a passionate advocate for women’s rights and pornography awareness.